"Oshawa's Ace on Skates"
It was March 1962, in Prague's Fucik Arena which was filled to capacity for the World Figure Skating Championship competition and a long way from home. Over 18,000 people in the arena and millions of TV viewers watched as Don Jackson, the little guy from Oshawa, performed the most spectacular "come from behind" free skating routine in the history of world figure skating competition...
Donald George Jackson, was born in Oshawa, on April 2nd 1940 to George Jackson and Patricia Matthews who were married in 1935. Six weeks pre-mature and later further complicated by a double hernia; Don would always be of small stature. But a great advantage he always carried with him was the loving and unquestionable support of his parents and younger brother, Bill.
Don attended Sunday School at Simcoe Street United Church; kindergarten at Centre Street Public School and then Mary Street Public School to begin grade 1.
His competitive nature and Pat's sewing skill brought Don his first award. In the annual Rotary Parade he placed first in the costume competition in a monarch butterfly outfit his mother had made.
In another costume competition in March 1948 at the winter carnival at Mary Street School, contestants had to appear on skates. Don wore a snowman costume, Pat had skillfully made, and a pair of borrowed skates. Barely able to stand, he won the best comic costume award! Later during class skating races he obviously couldn't join in. Don, not quite 8 years old, vowed to learn to skate and win that race next year. His resolve was further strengthened a month later during the Barbara Ann Scott Skating Show in Toronto. He watched in awe as the male star of the show, Don Tobin, performed his swift and graceful free skating routine. "I don't want to just learn to skate I want to skate like that !" he told his parents, Pat and George. That summer David Lowery, an older boy from the neighborhood was telling Don about the Oshawa Skating Club. Dick McLaughlin was president of the Club who later became the President of the Canadian Figure Skating Association. Competitively, he (Dick McLaughlin) won the Canadian Junior Championship. His wife Patsy had placed second in the Senior Championship. From that moment on hardly a day went by that Don didn't ask his parents to join the skating club. Finally after speaking with David ( who later went on to become the Canadian Junior Pairs Champion) Pat and George decided to enroll Don in the next winter session.
Timidly clinging to the boards at first, it didn't take Don long to find his sense of balance and begin venturing further onto the ice. Smiling with pride, Pat noticed the huge ear-to-ear grin that was never to leave Don's face while he was a competitive skater.
The regular group training sessions at the Club, conducted by Alex Fulton, included skating races. Soon Don was consistently finishing first against older boys in his age group who were bigger, stronger and more experienced than he. Don also took one figure skating lesson a week from the club pro Nan Unsworth during that first season. Don had difficulty understanding the nature of (compulsory) figures and the need to skate for fifteen minutes at a time in a small area of clear ice, known as the "patch". But it was necessary to master the successive figure tests in order to qualify for national and international competition. Don's slight build made it difficult for him to make an impression on the "patch" while tracing the figure, further complicating his ability to master the successive figure levels. It would be his greatest challenge but also prove his determination and willingness to work hard.
Freeskating, using the entire ice surface to perform various jumps and other figure skating moves, was Don's forte and he began one free skating lesson per week in his second season on skates. His parents also added an extra figure skating lesson per week to his regime that winter.
Pat returned to work to help pay for Don's lessons and ice time.
The financial burden that Don's career placed on his family in
the early years was without a doubt equally matched by Don's determination,
hard work and natural talent and ability. It would prove to be
a wise investment for the Jacksons.
Otto Gold, who coached Barbara Ann Scott to World Championship brought Don's skating style and unique foot work up to the international competitive level. While under Otto's tutorship Don reached the age where he began to mature physically and his skating became the fastest by far. He could attain unbelievable height and distance from his jumps.
Pierre Brunet of New York City, one of the top coaches in World Figure skating, brought consistency to Don's skating style. With Pierre, Don began practicing the triple lutz which had not yet been done by anyone in world competition. During this time Don was to fly to Prague from New York with the U.S. team to compete in the 1961 World Championships. But Don, in bed with a temperature of 103 and under his doctor's care, planned to book passage later. It saved his life! While in bed Don received word of the worst tragedy in sporting history. The plane he was to have been on, crashed while landing, leaving no survivors. Shocked by the tragic accident the International Skating Union officials cancelled the 1961 World Championships.
It was Sheldon Galbraith, the coach of coaches who would take Don on his final step to the top. Sheldon was a perfectionist who took Don into new and unknown reaches of figure skating and helped developed the five minute freeskate routine that would catapult Don to the world stage in 1962 in Prague.
From those early years in Oshawa, to Ottawa, New York, Toronto and beyond, Don's unique talent and ability brought audiences to their feet. But it was his characteristic ear- to-ear grin and the sheer joy of skating he portrayed during his performances that won their hearts.
Don's awards during his amateur career are too numerous to mention here. But the Lake Placid Sportsmanship Award chosen by his peers in September 1955 is, to this day, one of Don's most cherished awards. George Gross, senior sports editor at the Toronto Sun newspaper, wrote an excellent book called Donald Jackson ''King of Blades'' which provides a complete list of Don's awards. This book is available at the library in Oshawa. There is also a web site on the internet at www.jacksonskates.com which lists Don's many awards.
In Prague, March 1962, the World Figure Skating Championships were held over from the cancelled competition the previous year due to the tragic loss of the U.S. Team. Everything Don had experienced in his life up to this point had prepared him for this, his greatest moment in world figure skating. And he was never more ready.
At the end of the compulsory figures competition Don was 45 points behind first place leader Karol Divin, the favored to win. In the dressing room just before his final freeskate performance, Don laced his skates carefully. He never went to see Divin's routine or observe the judges' marks. When he took to the ice for his warm-up he had no way of knowing Divin's marks basically spelled the end of his chances to win. Don would need virtually all perfect marks to overcome his main rival. Don's triple lutz, a very difficult jump that he had almost perfected, could pull Don up, but his coach, Sheldon Galbraith, would not pressure his star pupil to perform it. It had never been done before in world competition. Don re-laced his skates one more time and prepared to return to the ice for his final free skate performance of the 1962 World Figure Skating Championship competition. The signal came for Don to step out on the ice. He quickly turned to his coach and asked ''Mr. Galbraith, is there a chance that I could pull up?"
Sheldon knew Divin's scores, he knew Don would have to perform an almost perfect routine. He looked Don square into his eyes and quietly replied, ''Don, there's room at the top''. ''Thank you, Mr. Galbraith, that's all I need to know." Don turned and stepped onto the ice.
Don stood at centre ice waiting for his music to begin. As his mother, Pat, watched from the stands, Don took a couple of deep breaths and looked up for a brief moment. Pat knew he was saying a silent prayer. As he looked back down, a smile began to spread across his face. The music began, Don spread his arms and took his first step.
From that first step everything fell into place. The balance, rhythm, fluid body motion, discipline and his characteristic ear-to-ear grin said that Don was in his natural element. Tears welled up in Pat's eyes as Don went down in history with a perfect and beautifully performed triple Lutz. Don could barely hear the music any longer from the deafening roar of the crowd. The applause was constant as Don finished his historic performance. The standing ovation lasted fifteen minutes. When the judges marks were displayed there was an audible gasp from the audience as Don received seven 6's, a near perfect score. Don had done it! He had come from behind to edge Karol Divin and accepted the gold medal on behalf of his country.
On his return to Oshawa Don was placed in a new convertible while 15,000 Oshawans shouted their appreciation on the route to city hall.
Don later turned professional by signing to perform with the Ice Follies of Shipstad and Johnson. He also skated in the World Pro Invitational Figure skating competition capturing the gold in December 1965. Don married while in the lce Follies and has five children, Donald Jr., Derek, Michael, Jeannie and Stephanie.
Coaching has been one of Don's greatest rewards. Mentoring young figure skaters continues his legacy.
In 1966 Don and his brother Bill partnered with the Bauer Skate company to develop the Don Jackson Figure Skating Products [renamed Jackson Skate Company].
Among Don's many awards and various halls where his picture hangs, most notably for Oshawa, is the fact that Donald Jackson was inducted into The Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame in 1986.
Donald Jackson is truly Oshawa's "ACE OF SKATES".